There are few things I enjoy more than small business, hats, and the Northwest. So I was very stoked to discover a little brand in my backyard that combines all three. Findlay Hats is a relatively new brand out of Portland who creates some amazingly well-crafted hats with roots in NW culture and a level of attention to detail that you just don’t see very often in young apparel brands. We chatted with founder Jimmy Hickey about the past, present and future of the brand, and how cool patches are.
Introduce yourselves: who are you, what do you make, how long has the brand been around, and all that?
Howdy! My name is Jimmy Hickey & I run Findlay Hats with my best friend & girlfriend Sarah Wishard & good buddy Tyler Hull. We are based out of a garage in Portland Oregon and we launched in December of 2013. Our hats bring in three major aspects that have changed the headwear game in todays noisy world of apparel and accessories. All of our caps come with customizable, functional & interchangeable “stampede laces” that are built for good times (and to survive anything). When up, the laces add a nice accent to the brim of the hat that can also be replaced by many different lace colors and tied into different styles.
This creates a new look for your hat every time you wear it, giving the ability to rock your favorite sports team colors, match your new pair of sneakers, etc. Outside of the simple aesthetics of the stampede lace, they also can be rocked down below the chin, as a chin strap. This helps keep the hat on your head through those times where you may risk losing your hat, such as sticking your head out of a sunroof in a limo, riding in a helicopter, out on a boat fishing, cruising on a snowboard or just standing in a windy area. Outside of the stampede laces, our hats also have a friendly stash pocket inside them rounding out the 3 aspects to make our hats unique.
Most apparel brands are content to just print or embroider their logo on blank hats/shirts, but you guys put a ton of extra effort into your construction and product details. Can you tell us a little about those details– the lace, pocket, etc?
The apparel & accessories scene right now is so saturated with 1 color screen printed tees and simple pocket shirts. While I agree these styles can look nice and clean, it is just very difficult for a brand like that to really stand out. That is what fuels us to really try to push our creativity and the capabilities of what we can do, running with the theme of “function & fashion.”
We want something that looks good, but also takes it one step further. People losing their favorite hat is a very common issue, and our hats provide the perfect solution. But moving past that, we also want to ensure production quality & keep costs down, which is why we do so much extra stuff in house. Every single hat is grommeted by hand by one of us, every pocket is screen printed by a friend, then cut, sewn, and fused inside the hats. All of our laces are cut by hand, patches sewn by our 80+ year old sewing machine. Our embroidery machine cranks out our custom hats & collaboration hats, our leather patches & wood clips are laser cut in Portland. Everything but the actual hat creation itself is done by us in house, and as a result it lets us oversee every aspect of quality.
The reality is that a lot of those details will go un-noticed by the average shopper. Why are you still committed to go so far above and beyond in terms of quality and detail compared to other brands?
Great question. At this point, it comes down to our size & desire for the best product we can crank out. We have no outside investors and are entirely self-sustained. We really can’t afford to do it any other way, and this current system works for us. While we are growing at a fast rate, and always a little faster than we can handle, we are still a new company that 3 people are trying to survive off and funds are always tight.
By doing things in house ourselves, we are able to save money & re-invest it into the company as it grows. When we first started we didn’t really capture how much work we do in house, but we recently had a pretty rad little video made by Outlive Creative about everything that goes into our hats. Since releasing that video, I think more people are learning about how much work goes in to each hat.
Other companies for the most part design the hat, order through their manufacturer, and the hat arrives & goes to their customers or retailers. Done. Our in house process has 8-12 steps beyond that once we receive the cap itself.
Most of your products are named after Northwest cities, including some pretty obscure ones like Tumwater and Lacey. What was the origin of that idea, and why is it important to you to represent the NW?
This is one of my favorite aspects of our company that goes uncommented or noticed. I think there are many of reasons behind this, but it mainly comes down to the love of our home in the PNW. It’s where we grew up and where we want to live for the rest of our lives. While we always want to be true to Cascadia & will never forget our roots, we are certainly growing in the direction of a company that reaches all corners of the world, and want to bring a little “Northwest soul” with us everywhere we go. Not to mention the NW just has a bunch of radical names that the world needs to see. Other than cities, we also look for different themes such a streets in Portland that we liked the name of, to famous forts around the world.
I really like what you guys are doing with your patches. As someone who designed hundreds of them during my time at Abercombie & Fitch, I know how much effort goes into a good patch. Where do you draw inspiration from for your patches?
When it comes to highly detailed pieces, we believe that patches simply look better. So when we are trying to make an All American bad ass patch with a Bald Eagle, a patch is the only way to go. We generally will look up retro or WWII era patches or designs and then figure out what we can do to make them our own. For the Limited Edition Agenda Trade show themed hats in Long Beach CA, we found out that the city officials have some really cool looking patches, so we took that as inspiration and brought in some Findlay spice to really make it ours.
What’s next for Findlay? When can we expect global domination?
Right now we are just trying to survive the rush of orders that are coming in with our new line, new wholesale accounts & custom orders…cranking out a few thousand hats over a couple of weeks is certainly pushing us to our in house limits. Past that, we are really set on developing a fully waterproof hat which has been surprisingly difficult to work with our grommets. Pushing a bit more of the soft goods line as well, including our “tank tote”, or tanktop that converts into a tote bag, and a few other mini projects and collaborations. Our goals are really set on steady growth. We have barely scratched the surface of what we are capable of and where this brand can go. We just secured some large distribution in Sweden, as well as have a few in the works across the globe, all of which could be huge for us. Global headwear domination is on our “to do” list, but it’s a couple stages past just getting out of the garage.